It was the fall of 2004 when I went to my first house show in the sleepy college town of Harrisonburg, Va. I was 19, and I had recently made friends with Stephen, who would become one of my best friends for life. Shortly after we started hanging out, he introduced me to the punk scene in Harrisonburg, which I didn’t even know existed, but was surprisingly active. He invited me out to a show one Friday night, so I grabbed my two best friends—Kirsten and Chelsea—and asked them to accompany me to the “Crayola House.”
My introduction to independent music had come somewhat late in my life. In the summer between my junior and senior year of high school, I had fallen in with a group of friends much different from my super smart, clean-cut friends at school. This group was not quite as academically ambitious, and they did things like cut class, smoke pot, and drink alcohol—all things I would do for the first time that year as well. But in addition to introducing me to the joys and perils of drugs and alcohol, they also opened my world to poetry scrawled on napkins, punk music, and the pure angst of teenage rebellion. That year, I went to my first show, crowdsurfed for the first (and only) time, and started obsessively following my first favorite bands.
Over the next few years, I would make the trek up to DC to see shows at the 9:30 club and the Black Cat, driving the two hours there and back in the same night with Kirsten and Chelsea in tow. But it wasn’t until I met Stephen that I began to frequent the hyper-local shows happening in our town.
Chelsea was a little more experienced in the punk scene, having been more into music in her youth growing up in the suburbs of Philly, but Kirsten and I were complete noobs. We dressed up in our punk-est clothes, smearing on heavy black eyeliner and stocking up on cheap beer and cigarettes before heading over to the show. We weren’t exactly sure what the etiquette was for house shows, and as we approached the back door of the house, Kirsten turned to me nervously and asked, “Should we knock?” I shrugged, honestly not knowing the answer to the question. Someone else came up behind us, pushed open the door, then turned back to us, “Yes, they will all be very offended if you don’t knock,” she said, snarkily, before she disappeared into a dark basement full of smelly punk kids.
We warily followed her in. We couldn’t actually see the band, but we could feel the music reverberating inside of our chests as we pushed our way into the crowd. I found Stephen, who gave me a big hug and a huge smile in lieu of any kind of conversation, which would have been impossible to hear anyway. The short ceilings of the basement made me feel claustrophobic, but I tried to relax and focus on the music instead, which was a mix of punk and electronic. The singer of the band screamed into his microphone, sweat darkening his hair and spraying onto the crowd as he danced around.
That first show was electrifying. We saw three different bands, but I only remember the name of one—Sentai—who played a song so catchy that I still listen to it today. I don’t think they’ve put out any new music since that year, but one good song is nothing to be ashamed of. Chelsea, Kirsten, Stephen, and I went back to the Crayola House dozens of times over the next couple of years, but I never saw a show as good as that first one. Like so many things, the deeper we got into the “scene,” the more fucked-up it became, and the wide-eyed wonder that the first show I saw induced became harder and harder to find, lost to the rose-colored lens of nostalgia and youth.